Embargo remains for some Cuba sectors, as trade grows slowly
December 3, 2016 at 2:42 PM EST
AMY GUTTMAN: Visitors to Cuba may find the lack of modernization part of
the country’s charm, but if Cuban farmers and American investors get
their way, oxen that still till these fields may finally be replaced.
Cuban-American entrepreneur Saul Berenthal owns Cleber, an Alabama-based
tractor manufacturing business. He’s among the first to obtain a U.S.
license to export agricultural machines, like the ones seen here, to Cuba.
SAUL BERENTHAL: This is an opportunity for us to go back and see, in my
mind, how do we help the two communities together? Because I believe,
through commerce, through business, and not politics, is the best way of
bringing the peoples together.
AMY GUTTMAN: Berenthal also believes better machines will help Cubans
decrease their dependence on imports, which account for 80 percent of
the island’s food supply.
SAUL BERENTHAL: What we chose was a tractor that was designed in the
late 1940s for the U.S. family farm. Very much like what you see here
and very much like what you see throughout the whole country.
AMY GUTTMAN: Cuba has yet to approve the sale of Berenthal’s tractors.
When it does, he plans to ship them assembled, but one day he hopes to
set up a factory here so Cubans can build them. Berenthal was born and
raised in Havana, the son of European immigrants who fled the Holocaust.
His parents were successful merchants who imported American products
until the Cuban Revolution in 1959 when they left Havana for Miami.
SAUL BERENTHAL: The socialist economic model is to keep the land in the
hands of the people who work the land, and therefore every Cuban that is
willing to, is given X amount of land, for them to cultivate and they
get the government to buy their crop, and what we’re doing is trying to
bring some technology that will allow them to be more productive with
what they do.
AMY GUTTMAN: The Cuban Government buys a portion of what farmers produce
to stock bodegas where Cubans use ration cards to buy food. Farmers can
sell the rest at produce stands for cash.
Agriculture is one of the biggest sectors targeted for stronger trade
with the U.S. Since a sanctions reform act in 2000, thirteen states led
by Virginia, Alabama, and Louisiana have exported to Cuba limited
amounts of products like soybeans, apples, and poultry. Those shipments
topped $150 million in the first nine months of this year.
At the same time, the U.S. allowed Cuban imports of coffee for the first
time and a greater range of textiles. But Cuba’s largest exports to
other countries like rum, tobacco, exotic fruit, and honey have yet to
make it to the U.S. market due to the continuing embargo.
Isis Salcines runs a 125-acre or 300 hectare organic cooperative farm
called Vivero Alamar. 140 people work here.
ISIS SALCINES: I need tools, I need implements, I need infrastructure
AMY GUTTMAN: Is the trade embargo the obstacle here to developing that land?
ISIS SALCINES: when you have 300 hectares, and you have a pair of oxen.
We need tractors.
AMY GUTTMAN: American trade delegations regularly visit the farm, which
raises cows and grows lettuce, sugarcane, and Moringa trees, whose
leaves are packed with protein, calcium, and other nutrients.
ISIS SALCINES: You can eat the leaves, the flower, everything. Has more
calcium than milk, more protein than meat.
AMY GUTTMAN: Without modern tools, the farm uses arduous techniques. For
example, it doesn’t have PH meters to test whether the soil is too
acidic or alkaline, so workers count out 100 worms before placing them
in the ground for a few days. If the majority survive, the PH levels are
So what are some of the things that you would buy from the American
market if you were able to import them?
ISIS SALCINES: Any supplies, the more simple things. The gloves for the
workers, the shoes, the boots, the irrigation system. I need everything.
AMY GUTTMAN: How much could you increase your production here at this
farm if you had a few of the things on your wish list, PH meters as an
ISIS SALCINES: I think that maybe between 20 and 30 percent.
AMY GUTTMAN: Since Raul Castro succeeded his brother, Fidel, as
President in 2008, the Cuban Government has taken small steps away from
Communist dogma that defined its Revolution…softening the state monopoly
on distributing agricultural goods, allowing Cubans to own their homes,
and permitting them to run their own shops and restaurants.
Despite an increase in small businesses, greater access to the Internet
and other changes here, Cubans I’ve spoken to fear the path toward trade
with the United States isn’t developing fast enough.
HUGO CANCIO: As an American businessman, I’d like to see, and as a
consultant for some American companies, I would like to see more progress.
AMY GUTTMAN: Hugo Cancio fled Cuba for Miami with his mother and sister
in 1982, when he was just 16. In the 1990s, when the U.S. and Cuba let
Cuban-Americans visit relatives on the island, Cancio set-up a travel
agency in Miami. Today, he also publishes the English-language
bi-monthly magazine “On Cuba,” with offices in Havana.
HUGO CANCIO: I have been focused 100 percent on Cuba. I’ve put all of my
emotions and energy into this whole process that we’re experiencing today.
AMY GUTTMAN: Cancio says in the past year, the arrival of Western Union
in Cuba and the approval of commercial airline flights from nine
American cities has made it easier for Cubans to access cash. In
addition, remittances from friends and family in the U.S. hit a record
$3.3 billion last year. With travel restrictions eased, Americans spent
more than a billion dollars in Cuba in the first six months of this
year, the number of U.S. tourists nearly doubled.
To meet the growing demand, American and international hotel chains are
building or remodeling properties, typically co-owned by the Cuban
government, like the La Manzana complex near Old Havana.
HUGO CANCIO: This park represents the old and the new, and I think will
continue to do so.
AMY GUTTMAN: And now, it’s the foreground for the many cranes and
building works going on.
HUGO CANCIO: Cranes mean prosperity, you know, something’s brewing in
the economy. There are companies that used to be here prior to 1959
whose properties and businesses were nationalized or confiscated or
expropriated, and they’re willing to forgive and forget their claims
against the government to be the first one to get in here. It’s taking a
bit too long and people are readjusting their expectations.
AMY GUTTMAN: American companies expecting to do business in Cuba
exhibited at Havana’s annual International Business Fair in October,
including General Electric and NAPA Auto Parts. They join a queue of
foreign companies from Canada to China that have been investing in Cuba
for decades. Cancio warns the Cuban Government is cautious to avoid the
over-dependence on America that helped fuel the revolution.
HUGO CANCIO: Remember, part of the whole process that led to the Cuban
Revolution was the fact that back in 1959, the Cuban economy was in the
hands of American businesses and American interests. That Cuba is not
AMY GUTTMAN: Despite that concern, Ricardo Torres, an Economist at the
University of Havana’s Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy, says
the U.S. and Cuba are natural trading partners.
RICHARD TORRES: Culturally speaking, those two countries are much closer
than probably other countries and the fact there are almost two million
Cubans living in the United States, means that there is a powerful force
out there that will, you know, stick the two countries very close.
AMY GUTTMAN: Is there any concern that interest from foreign investors
will wane if it takes too long?
RICHARD TORRES: Yes, there might be a problem with that. We need facts
to tell people that we are ready and we are open for business.
AMY GUTTMAN: Torres says Cuba’s crumbling infrastructure is an area ripe
for deals with American investors.
RICARDO TORRES: I think there are billions of dollars to be invested in
that sector over the coming decades. We are talking about roads, we are
talking about railroads, we are talking about airports, talking about
ports, we are talking about telecommunications.
AMY GUTTMAN: Torres points to the special economic zone established at
the Port of Mariel, an hour outside of Havana, which has drawn foreign
investment mainly from Brazil and Singapore. It’s a state of the art
deepwater port with huge container terminals and warehouses.
Port officials from several American states have been making visits
here. Already, government officials from Virginia and Louisiana have
made future agreements to facilitate trade between the U.S. and Cuba.
Those agreements envision ramping up imports and exports when the
existing trade restrictions with Cuba are eased. Mariel port official
Wendy Barroto says the Cuban Government has offered tax breaks,
expedited permits, and built a monorail line to attract more foreign
WENDY BARROTO: The total completion for this area is estimated in about
AMY GUTTMAN: What industries are you hoping to attract here?
WENDY BARROTO: They are basically logistics services, pharmaceutical
industry, biotechnology, and advanced manufacturing, with priority given
to food processing and packing, and steel works.
AMY GUTTMAN: While American companies wait for these deals to go
through…Saul Berenthal is optimistic his tractors will one day plough
Cuban soil. Berenthal says he understands why Cuba has been slow to
trust the U.S.
SAUL BERENTHAL: The difficulty lies between developing a trust with a
country that on one side says we want to do business with you and on the
other side has an embargo that forbids practically any activity in the
AMY GUTTMAN: So you’re hopeful that eventually your tractors will come
SAUL BERENTHAL: In time, with the proper political changes that must be
put in place, yes.
Source: Embargo remains for some Cuba sectors, as trade grows slowly |
PBS NewsHour – www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/embargo-cuba-trade-slowly/